UCC to review building name in light of comments on race by Nobel scientist James Watson

Dr James Watson

It is expected that University College Cork will sever its ties with a Nobel Prize winner in the coming weeks following his controversial comments about race.

Dr James Watson, whose name adorns a building at the Brookfield Health Science Complex at UCC, has been stripped of a host of honorary titles after making the remarks.

Watson, 90, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962 alongside Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their discovery, in 1953, that DNA is a double helix and "its significance for information transfer".

In a recent documentary film, Watson claims there is a direct correlation between intelligence and race. It reflects comments he made in an interview with the Sunday Times in 2007.

In the PBS documentary 'American Masters: Decoding Watson', he said: "There’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic.”

It prompted New York lab Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which Watson headed for many years, to strip him of all of his honorary titles.

The comments have come in for significant criticism by members of the UCC academic staff and the UCC Students' Union.

In 2016, UCC named a building at the Brookfield Health Science Complex after Watson, despite criticism. They defended the action at the time, saying he is 'a scientist of world renown.'

Prof John McInerney of the Department of Physics at UCC described the recent remarks as 'reprehensible and bigoted.' He said that it has long been known that Watson is an 'arrogant, bigoted' person who has frequently espoused the view that there is a correlation between intelligence and skin colour.

"Every trace of this vile and loathsome individual should be scrubbed from this university and any other institution which he may have contaminated with his actual or virtual presence, even temporarily, over the years. This extirpation should be as quick and public as possible so that he is still alive to witness it.

"I strongly suggest that UCC management take up this mission promptly, enthusiastically and completely."

He added: "I suggest that we hold in abeyance the next stage of deciding for whom the building should be renamed, although some excellent suggestions have already been made."

A spokesperson for UCC confirmed that the matter is to be looked at in greater detail.

In a statement to the Irish Examiner, they said: "The decision to name the building was made within the recognised university processes at that time. Since then the protocol for the naming of buildings has been significantly changed.

"UCC is aware of the recent comments by Dr James D Watson and university management has referred the matter of the building name to the relevant committee.”

It is understood that this committee is to meet in the coming weeks.

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